Real-life princesses don’t always get a fairy-tale ending. But in Monaco, tragedy has a tendency to repeat itself.
Now some say that the troubles of Monaco’s Princess Charlene — who returned to Monaco in November after months in South Africa, only to leave again within days for a treatment center — eerily echo those of her late mother-in-law, the former Hollywood star Grace Kelly.
“Grace had a terrible depression through their first years of their marriage not unlike what is going on with Charlene today,” Joel Stratte-McClure, a former journalist who covered Monaco for decades, told The Post. “She was very unhappy.”
A Monaco resident who has known the reigning Grimaldi family for almost 30 years said Charlene has never seemed to fit in with Prince Albert and his siblings.
“She either had this strange air of detachment, like she didn’t care how she was perceived by anyone in Monaco, or else she seemed miserable but without the agency to do anything about it,” the family friend said. “She was very hard to read. She wasn’t like the typical Monaco trophy wife. She wasn’t a gold digger.”
Charlene, 43, returned to the principality Nov. 8 after having been away from her family there — including her husband, Prince Albert, and 6-year-old twins Jacques and Gabriella — since at least early May. She was last seen out in Monaco in January 2020.
The official word from Prince Albert, as well as Princess Charlene’s foundation, was that she was sidelined in her native South Africa because of a sinus infection that required multiple surgeries and treatments, and prevented her from flying home.
But multiple Monaco sources told The Post that Charlene’s issues are more complicated than anything that’s been reported in the media so far.
The parallels between Charlene and Grace are striking: Both struggled to transition from independent career women to lives as the wives of pampered, autocratic European rulers — in a postage-sized principality smaller than Central Park, where their every move was scrutinized by jealous locals.
“The gossip in Monte Carlo is gossip on a whole other level,” said one expat who has lived on the Riviera for decades. “Only the strong survive.”
Indeed, “You couldn’t go to a dinner party or a bar in Monaco in recent months without hearing gossip about when she was going to come back or if [Charlene] was going to come back,” a source with palace connections told The Post. “But since she came back and all this happened, the talk has gotten serious, like she really is suffering from a depression.”
Charlene returned to Monaco with her Rhodesian Ridgeback, Khan, posed with Albert and her children outside the palace and posted the photo of the family saying, “Thank you all for keeping me strong!”
But she abruptly left again on Nov. 15 and reportedly checked into a luxe, $400,000-per-month rehab center for treatment of physical and emotional “exhaustion” that Albert said could take weeks.
Rumors flew both from palace courtiers as well as French glossy magazines like Voici that Charlene had been in South Africa trying to wean herself off a cocktail of sedatives and sleeping pills. On Nov. 5, Voici published a story quoting a palace source who claimed that Charlene had starting taking painkillers about nine years ago for an old injury and it became an addiction, fed by her increasing unhappiness with the Grimaldi family.
“She could no longer bear the bullying of certain members of the family who have made her suffer in silence for 10 years,” the source told Voici.
Prince Albert’s lawyer, Thierry Lacoste, did not respond to e-mails from The Post about the allegations. A woman in the palace press office who did not give her name said the allegations were untrue.
Prince Albert — Charlene’s husband of 10 years — gave unusually frank interviews about his wife’s condition late last month, telling People that the family had staged an “intervention-style” meeting with her, within hours of her return, when it became clear the 43-year-old princess was “unwell.”
“She was very calm and very understanding,” said Albert, 63. “She realized herself that she needed help. You can’t force anyone to understand that they need treatment, they have to accept that themselves. She was already in favor of it. We knew that. We only wanted it confirmed in front of us.”
Days after Albert’s public remarks, friends of the Zimbabwe-born Charlene told Page Six said the princess had “almost died” in South Africa after undergoing multiple sinus surgeries over a period of six months. They added that she had not been been able to eat solid food and had lost a serious amount of weight.
Albert said Charlene’s issues did not involve their marriage, saying Charlene’s problem was “not a personal relationship issue.” Last December, it was reported that the prince had been hit with a third paternity suit, this time from a Brazilian woman who said Albert had fathered her 15-year-old daughter while he and Charlene were dating.
“It is unfair that she is being portrayed as having some kind of mental or emotional issue,” a source told Page Six. “We don’t know why the palace is downplaying that she almost died in South Africa.”
According to sources in Durban, South Africa, Charlene reportedly holed up for months in the isolated but luxurious five-room Afro-chic Villa iZulu at Thanda Safari, deep in KwaZulu-Natal north of Durban. The high-end resort offers a private helicopter pad and views of game animals around a watering hole.
Charlene said earlier this year that she could not fly back to Monaco because of sinus infection-related issues that prevented equalized pressure in her ears (necessary for altitudes over 20,000 feet). At no point during her illness, however, did the Monaco palace press office explain why Albert, one of the richest men in the world, did not send a ship to bring his wife home.
Charlene does not have the love and support in Monaco that Grace did — and still does. Much has been made over the years that Charlene still doesn’t speak French well if at all, despite intensive courses at the elite Institut de Français language school on the Riviera.
Princess Grace’s influence is still widely felt all over Monaco. Boulevards, buildings, libraries and balls are named after her. Her legacy remains that of an actress who brought elegance and beauty to a longtime gambling and tax haven.
But her personal problems were glossed over and all but unknown to the public.
The Oscar winner — Best Actress for 1954’s “The Country Girl” — was “handled” from the very start of her marriage by Nadia Lacoste, her shrewd Parisian-born confidante and spokeswoman, who died in February 2021 at age 99.
Lacoste’s son, Thierry, is Albert’s longtime principal lawyer and the one who managed embarrassing media reports at the time of the prince’s wedding to Charlene in 2011 — when it was said the would-be bride had fled to Nice International Airport to avoid getting married.
Sources told The Post that Princess Grace struggled with life in Monaco, just like Charlene.
“She was very unhappy,” Stratte-McClure said of Grace. “I remember seeing her in the mid-70s with [Prince] Rainier at Georges V looking bloated and drunk.”
Frédéric Mitterrand, France’s onetime minister of culture and the nephew of former French President François Mitterrand, told this reporter in 2007 that Grace was a lovely person who also seemed very sad.
“She had a real streak of melancholy,” said Mitterrand, who knew Grace well and wrote a book about her
Both foreigners, Grace and Charlene had successful careers — Grace as Hollywood star and Charlene as an Olympic swimmer — prior to their splashy weddings on what Monaco locals call “Le Rocher,” or “The Rock,” the 200-foot-high monolith that juts out high above the Mediterranean. The Grimaldi royal family has ruled from the creamy-pink Prince’s Palace atop The Rock since the 1200s.
Princess Grace indicated at the time of her marriage that she hoped to resume her acting career but said it wasn’t up to her. A TV documentary on her that aired in March cited early interviews in which she was asked prior to her wedding if she would continue acting after her marriage. “That decision will be made by the prince.,” she said.
According to the documentary, Grace died almost penniless. She had to pay a $2 million dowry to marry Prince Rainier, half of which came from her father so she received no inheritance when he died. At the time of her death, she had only $10,000 to her name and her grandfather’s run-down cottage in Ireland, the Times of London reported.
Grace also struggled with weight gain, reportedly visiting clinics in her late 40s after her once slim figure had became matronly.
Charlene, on the other hand, was a robust, broad-shouldered champion swimmer when she met Prince Albert after a Monaco swim meet in 2000. Now her figure appears so fragile in one of the last photos she posted from South Africa that many commenters expressed concern.
“She looked to be about 45 kilos [99 pounds] when she got back,” a longtime Monaco resident told The Post. “They’ve really worn her down. But running away isn’t going to help. She married into a conglomerate. Charlene made her bed. She either needs to lie in it or be upfront and get a divorce.”
After what he saw his mother go through, Albert apparently understood that his future wife might face tribulations.
“Albert told me in 1990 that he felt sorry for anyone who married him,” Stratte-McClure said. “If they weren’t famous and weren’t used to the fishbowl, the fishbowl would eat them up. He saw that a bit with his mother and history is repeating itself — but with the Internet and social media, it’s harder to hide.”
In September 1982, Princess Grace reportedly suffered a stroke while driving on a winding road en route from the family’s mountain getaway at Roc Agel back down to Monaco. The car plunged down a cliff and Grace, 52, died a few days later at a hospital. (A top French investigative journalist in 2014 debunked longstanding rumors that daughter Princess Stephanie, 16 at the time and also in the car, was at the wheel.)
While Grace was the daughter of a rich Philadelphia businessman, Princess Charlene comes from more humble roots.
Her father, Mike Wittstock, was a photocopier salesman and her mother was a swimming coach. Her parents and one of her brothers moved to Monaco after Charlene married Albert, ingratiating themselves with the House of Grimaldi. Her brother Gareth helps run Charlene’s influential foundation. Her sister-in-law Chantelle, wife of her brother Sean, is on the board of directors of the foundation. Mike is often seen at palace events with the prince.
“The Wittstocks like life in Monaco,” said someone who knows them. “They don’t want to give it up, which makes people wonder if they’re looking out for Charlene’s best interests.”
Like Grace before her — who stayed close to Hollywood friends like David Niven, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra — Charlene has maintained a support system in her home country.
She has forged deep ties with South Africa’s black power elite, including Bridgette Motsepe Radebe, the country’s first female black billionaire who was accused earlier this year of fraud, money laundering and election fraud in nearby Botswana. Radebe’s husband is Jeff Radebe, who held a variety of top Cabinet positions in South Africa since joining the African National Congress in 1976.
The princess is also very close to the Zulu royal family — more so, it appears, than to the Grimaldis. King Goodwill Zwelithini said he considered Charlene a “daughter.”
Charlene reportedly mediated in the messy succession conflicts after the death of Goodwill last spring despite her ill health.
The new Zulu king, Misuzulu kaZwelithini, one of Goodwill’s 28 children from six wives, escorted Charlene to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport on Nov. 8 when she returned to Monaco on Prince Albert’s Falcon 7X private jet.
In a new Tatler article about Charlene, unnamed friends from her swimming days remembered her as ambitious and laser-focused and no one’s fool — not unlike her late mother-in-law.
“She may come across as being extremely naïve, but nothing could be further from the truth,” one said. “She is very good at keeping her smarts under wraps. I don’t for one second think she did not know what she was doing when she married him.”